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Master of Environmental Science and Management: Master's Group Project

Modeling Land-Use Change for Solar and Conservation on Predicted Retired Farmland in the San Joaquin Valley

Aerial view of solar panels on grass

Group Members: Travis Christy, Kaley Dodson, Roshni Katrak-Adefowora, Katelyn Toigo

Faculty Advisors: Kyle C. Meng

Client: The Nature Conservancy



Final Report

Executive Summary

Final Presentation


Over the next 20 years, land in the San Joaquin Valley will undergo its most extensive change since it was first converted into irrigated farmland. California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), which was passed in 2014 to reduce groundwater overdraft, will lead to temporary fallowing and permanent retirement of hundreds of thousands of acres of irrigated agricultural land. Many landowners will be making difficult decisions about transitioning their land to alternative uses. This could potentially make available critical landscapes for habitat restoration. It is also an opportunity to advance the state’s ambitious goals to decarbonize the economy; meeting these goals will require significant amounts of utility-scale solar energy (USSE) to be sited in the Valley. In this project, we conduct a spatial-economic analysis to determine the extent to which retired farmland could be converted to USSE or to conservation based on the relative profitability of these choices. We find that solar is more profitable than conservation on approximately 61% (130,000 acres) of predicted retired lands, conservation is more profitable on 19% (41,000 acres) of the retired lands, and neither option is profitable on 20% (43,000 acres) of the retired lands. Finally, we identify potential policy measures that will increase the compatibility of solar development and conservation.


Dr. Grace Wu, Assistant Professor, Environmental Studies Program, UCSB

Mike Gialketsis, Vice President Strategic Advisor, Rincon Consulting

The Nature Conservancy: Dr. Scott Butterfield, Senior Scientist; Brian Cohen, Senior Spatial Data Scientist

Erica Brand, California Energy Commission

Yardi Systems, Inc. 

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